This is a preliminary, as-I'm-still-reading game book report.

The Stalker RPG, just released in English, is a diceless RPG set in the world of the Strugatsky brothers' Russian novel Roadside Picnic, and to a lesser extent Andrei Tarkovsky's movie Stalker and the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series of computer games. It's 13 years after something altogether alien touched the Earth, leaving half a dozen zones infested with artifacts and phenomena that defy explanation. There are anti-gravity things in the zones, and places where gravity becomes hundreds of times greater but only for some kinds of masses within their area, and places where time stops or zooms ahead, and much more. The zones are officially sealed to everyone but a few people authorized by the UN institute created to coordinate their study, but inevitably there are people who go in unauthorized. Those are stalkers, and they are the PCs.

The book is, to put it mildly, pricey for a PDF, at $27. I paid it because I wanted some retail therapy while fighting another round of my cold, and because I'm kind of a slavering fan of the book and movie. Is it worth it? Yes.

The description of the zones is wonderfully done, giving GMs and players lots to work with, while laying out great resources for creating new mysteries suitable for the specific campaign. And the GMing advice is, seriously, some of the best I've ever seen, going into real gritty detail about working together to reinforce a clear but adaptable mood in play.

The mechanics also have a genuinely new-to-me feature. The GM sets challenges for difficulties, and looks at player characters' attributes. So far, no surprise. But get this. Attributes are rated on a 1-5 scale. The GM also assesses the roleplaying the player used to present the character's action. (This is not the old-school "tell me the precise steps you engage in to defuse the trap" - the examples specifically cover situations where the GM, player, or both know little to nothing beyond pop culture references of the details of a skill. It's about setting forth personality, drives, response to the situation, and so on.) The GM applies a rule-of-thumb rating to the roleplay, on a 1-5 scale. Roleplay x attribute = the number to compare to the challenge difficulty.

I like the heck out of that, and I've never seen roleplaying put to such central use in mechanics before. In HeroQuest we'd do something like the equivalent of a free augment, or a bump in the character's favor in overall difficulty, or something like that, and that's cool. But the Stalker approach is really neat.

I <3 this game.
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